Margaret Thatcher, the politician and Christian

Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who died on Monday aged 87, was a leader of conviction and much of that conviction was rooted in her Christian faith.

She was the daughter of Methodist lay preacher Alfred Roberts and her political views were shaped considerably by her religious beliefs.

How these two fused together in her mind was outlined in a memorable 1988 speech to the Church of Scotland, a speech that would be remarkable for a politician of today given the clarity with which she explained the Christian basis for her political convictions.

She began the speech by telling her audience that she was speaking "personally as a Christian, as well as a politician", before going on to share her view that the Bible offered a "view of the universe, a proper attitude to work, and principles to shape economic and social life".

"We are told we must work and use our talents to create wealth. 'If a man will not work he shall not eat' wrote St Paul to the Thessalonians. Indeed, abundance rather than poverty has a legitimacy which derives from the very nature of Creation," she explained.

She added: "We must not profess the Christian faith and go to Church simply because we want social reforms and benefits or a better standard of behaviour; but because we accept the sanctity of life, the responsibility that comes with freedom and the supreme sacrifice of Christ."

In the speech she made clear her belief that personal responsibility was at the heart of a functioning society.

"Any set of social and economic arrangements which is not founded on the acceptance of individual responsibility will do nothing but harm," she said.

The ideas outlined in the speech had already taken shape prior to her election as Prime Minister in 1979. Writing in the Daily Telegraph a year before her election, she explained her understanding of the relationship between individual members of society.

"We are all members one of another [and this] is most vividly expressed in the Christian concept of the Church as the Body of Christ; from this we learn the importance of interdependence and the individual achieves his own fulfilment in service to others and to God," she wrote.

Her Church of Scotland speech not only reaffirmed the Christian inspiration for her political views. It also illuminated her conviction that Britain's Christian heritage was worthy of preserving.

"The Christian religion – which, of course embodies many of the great spiritual and moral truths of Judaism – is a fundamental part of our national heritage," she told the gathered assembly.

"And I believe it is the wish of the overwhelming majority of people that this heritage should be preserved and fostered. For centuries it has been our very life blood."

One of her most memorable quotes for many Christians, indeed many people generally, comes from the words she spoke from the steps of 10 Downing Street after coming to power in 1979.

Based on the Prayer of Saint Francis, she said: "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope."

Even after she retired from frontline politics, the Christian underpinnings of her political outlook remained unchanged.

In her 2002 book, Statecraft, she said she believed in Judaeo-Christian values. "Indeed my whole political philosophy is based on them," she said.

In a statement following her death, the executive director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, Colin Bloom said Thatcher's Methodist faith "shone through her".

He said: "It has been said of her that whilst many prime ministers were weather vanes, she was a signpost. Her legacy for both the United kingdom and the world is incalculable; history will show that she, more than any other British prime minister of the past 60 years, changed our nation for the better.

"She was particularly fond of a quotation from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism: 'Earn all you can; save all you can; give all you can.' Something which we think might be a fitting epitaph for her. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends."

But her politics divided Christians as much as they did wider society. The Evangelical Alliance's Dr Dave Landrum recalled how he developed a "pretty negative" view of Thatcher's monetarist policies as a school leaver facing the "economic wasteland" of Liverpool in the 1980s.

It was only with time that his appreciation for her grew.

"As the years have passed and politics has now become more about calculation than conviction and PR than passion, it is clear that her courageous style of leadership brought many benefits to national life – not least vision. Becoming the first woman PM is a tremendous achievement and it means that her legacy is secure," he said.

He is candid, however, about his desire to see the nation move on to a new kind of politics.

"With our present social and economic problems it could be said that Lady Thatcher's idea of superseding the state with the market looks like we may have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire," he said.

"As her economic liberalism was followed by Blair's social liberalism and now by Cameron's hybrid of the two, it is clear that we need an entirely new way of doing politics. As we mourn the passing of this historic figure, let's hope that our politicians are prompted to start moving towards our post-liberal future."

Tributes have come in from many Christian leaders:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby said: "It was with sadness that I heard the news of the death of Baroness Thatcher and my prayers are with her son and daughter, her grandchildren, family and friends. It is right that today we give thanks for a life devoted to public service, acknowledging also the faith that inspired and sustained her."

The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said: "It was with sadness that we heard the news of the death of Baroness Thatcher, who served this country for many years both as a Member of Parliament and as Prime Minster.

"We pray for the repose of her soul and for the intentions of her family and all those who now mourn for her."

The President of the Methodist Conference, the Reverend Dr Mark Wakelin said: "Margaret Thatcher was a hugely significant, complex and yet divisive figure in post-war British politics. She achieved a major breakthrough as Britain's first woman Prime Minister, and her time in office fundamentally changed the nature of British society, especially the relationship between individuals and the state.

"For many people she was a courageous and committed leader, and one of the best known British politicians around the world - her roots in a personally responsible Methodist tradition were greatly admired by many.

"Perhaps one of her greater achievements was to change the post-war political consensus, forcing her political rivals to campaign far more on her terms."

Lord Carey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury during Lady Thatcher's time as prime minister, said: "People may differ about her politics – and she divided opinion as any politician does – but there is no doubt that she transformed Britain, she brought back respect, gave us a backbone and she fought for us."